The narrative of an anti-right-wing conspiracy behind the IRS’s heightened scrutiny of groups with words such as “Tea Party” and “patriots” in their names is so attractive that many on the right embraced it even when the evidence didn’t really back it up. Some, such as Tea Party protesters and Wall Street Journal columnist Peggy Noonan, have continued to do so. But the IRS’s latest reveal on Monday, that its “be on the lookout” words included such left-wing hallmarks as “progressive,” “blue,” and “occupy,” undercuts that narrative. In fact, it’s led to new questions from Democrats over why the audit that broke the scandal in the first place didn’t mention any BOLO words except the right-wing ones.
The agency’s release Monday of documents showing the wider scope of its BOLO lists came with an assurance from acting commissioner Daniel Werfel that it would stop using those lists to flag groups for review. The BOLO words had been in use as recently as this month, the New York Times reported. The instructions in the lists illustrate how the agency was using some of the various key words as shortcuts to identify 501(c)(4) groups. The organizations’ tax-exempt status depends on them operating primarily as social welfare groups, with politicking making up no more than 40 percent of their activity.
The word “progressive,” for example, is a “common thread” through politically left groups, one list reads. “Activities appear to lean toward a new political party. Activities are partisan and appear as anti-Republican. You see references to ‘blue’ as being ‘progressive.’ ” The words “open source software” suggest a for-profit business, the list says, and “occupied territory advocacy” indicates propaganda and a “one-sided point of view.”
From the new information revealed by the IRS, it would appear the agency’s keyword searches, while arguably inappropriate, did not confine themselves to targeting right-wing groups. So now Democrats such as Rep. Sandy Levin want to know why the original report on IRS targeting didn’t make that clear. In a letter to J. Russell George, the inspector general for tax administration, Levin wrote, “Your audit served as the basis and impetus for a wide range of congressional investigations and this new information shows that the foundation of those investigations is flawed in a fundamental way.”
George has said his audit came in response to Rep. Darrell Issa, who “specifically requested a review of IRS actions related to conservative groups,” Politico reports. And Rep. Dave Camp, who chairs the House Ways and Means committee, said through a spokesman: “Tea Party groups were not just on a BOLO they were (1) sent intrusive and inappropriate questions, (2) had their donors threatened with gift taxes and (3) had their confidential information leaked.”
If that response is any clue, it appears the sense of right-wing vicitmization might be altered by this new information, but it’s not likely to go away.